If I haven't called it "all game" why would I call it now?

May 28, 2008
By TheRef
If the last games were cold, these games were warmer, but much much windier. I noticed it particuarly when I tried backpedaling - going against the wind I was traveling less than half I would from the opposite direction. The game, a semi-final for the U18 boys, wouldn't stand up against the team that won the other semi, and for the most part was a pretty uninsteresting game, except for the score, which was 1-0, which was determined on a really tight call.

I've known the AR for a while - we both started at the same time, and were both on a high school playoff game with a center referee that should not have been there; the game ended very badly, with fights, a termination, and police escorts. It was one of those things that made me realize that you should never do varisty high school on your first year with the whistle, and also that the high school association, as part of the NFHS, doesn't give a shit about referees. In any case, we'd worked a few games together, she's doing college games now, and I know her well enough to know she gives a crap about the game and her performance (which would make sense, knowing who runs the local NISOA chapter). So when a call careened off the crossbar and dropped like a rocket - followed by her running equally as explosive along the touchline, I knew I would not dispute the call.

Of course, all the other players disputed it, and I was very happy to get in front of them a good thirty yards before they could converge on her. Truth be told, I didn't think it was in, but my angle sucked, and more importantly, her's didn't, so I'm confident that it was a goal.

I call things different in the State Cup - having been the Regionals twice (and something in the back of my mind makes me think that I'll be making way for new blood - especially since I can't upgrade), I know what calls will and won't be made there, and I try to do much the same here. But there was a lot of complaining by the team that eventually lost, and that escalated after the goal was scored. In the last few minutes, it was furious, with appeals asking for calls, then complaining that I hadn't called them all game (which begs the question, if I haven't called it "all game", why would I call it now?); and even ending on not giving them any stoppage time (which I did). One guy even gave up his corner kick to argue with me; I suggested that he'd feel stupid if he missed a ball dropping right in front of him because he focued on me rather than the incoming kick.

Even after the end of the game: "How can you end the game? You told me two minutes ago we have five minutes left."

I looked at my watch, "No, I told you we had five minutes left, seven minutes ago."

Kind of a pointless exercise, really. But what can you do? Read More »

Teaching styles

May 21, 2008
By TheRef
I'm going back to the original point of this blog - to vent frustration, although for a change it's not the players, coaches, or fans causing the frustration, it's the assessor. The good news is that it's not an official assessment, so I don't have to go through additional assessments, and it's not even the information he gave out. It's... well, you'll see in a bit.

The game was pretty easy - it just had one really difficult call early on - the 12th minute. It was a State Cup match between the private school I did a few games with over the winter (specifically, the one that played the semi-pro team), and another club. The private school, from experience, is fast, disciplined in play and in attitude, and well organized. The other team also had very good attitudes, but was sorely lacking in organization: first, they only had ten players suited-up; then they didn't have enough socks to change (both teams had the same color socks, and as the designated home team, they had to change). They scavenged a couple of black, but non-matching socks, and we played, but it was clear it was going to be a blowout.

Then the decision, a player on the right flank gets a breakaway, turns in toward the goal, the goalkeeper is outside of his area challenging him, trips him up (not getting any ball). There are no other defenders anywhere near him, or anywhere near getting toward the goal. Send-off. Probably one of the easiest sells I've had with a red card - the coaches agreed, his own players agreed - I still didn't want to do it, because it would drop them down to nine players and make it a blowout. Which it was. 14-0. And most of the second half was the leading team just passing the ball around.

So, now the unofficial assessment, which was done by a current National Referee. Here's where I want to start: I've always been told that, when critiquing someone else, regardless of what it is, find something, preferably three things that the person did good, and start out with those, even if the performance totally sucked. The idea is that it helps the person being critiqued take the negatives, and build them on top of the positives. For example, a positive may the person's speed on the pitch (or maybe how hard he worked if he's not fast), then bring up his crappy positioning. :-) Or, conversely, bring up good positioning, then suggest going deeper, running harder, or something along those lines.

If you guess that we got nothing positive out of this guy, you're correct; congratulations. That's one more positive than our entire team got.

Maybe it's done differently when you're a National Referee. Maybe with the National badge the assumption is that you should be great, and that you shouldn't take a 100% negative assessment badly. But we're not Nationals. We're not National Candidates. Hell, none of us were even State referees.

OK, maybe it wasn't a good idea to start with one of my ARs, who was, admittedly, not up to the standards of a U18 boys State Cup match. He didn't run to the goal-line, his mechanics were poor, he had a tendency to stop even when the offside line continued toward onward. OK, so I don't have that many positives - but he didn't piss anyone off, except maybe the assessor, because he argued back, repeatedly. So by the time he got to the rest of us, he wouldn't answer any questions - which is a real problem if you're trying to learn from the experience of someone who has more than you.

He started at us with the socks. Some of them had white bits to them (you're typical Adidas socks), instead of the all-black that the others had. He said we should have told them to fold them back, because of the tournament. OK - that's good. So I told him of our situation earlier, and asked what we should have done if they didn't have those socks at all (which looked like the case for a while, and the visiting team didn't, either - thinking they didn't need to, since they were away). Question ignored. I asked again. Question ignored.

Then the red card. He insisted that the player wasn't heading toward the goal, and we ignored the "Direction" portion of the 4-Ds. In my mind, no I hadn't - he was turned directly toward the goal, even if on the outside of the penalty area, had a clear path toward the goal, and would have no interference in an easy score. But we kept hearing, multiple times, "If you're not sure about the direction, don't issue a red." OK - is he saying that the player needs to be more demonstrably heading toward the goal or needs to be more centered? To me, this is critical, because I'll have this type of situation again at some point. But did he answer the question? No! He just said again, "He was not heading toward the goal. I was right here - he was not heading toward the goal". The problem was, that "right here" was on the opposite touchline!! He could have said, "If I can't see it from here, then you should issue a DOGSO card" - that would make sense, it meant that the player had to be demonstrably moving toward the goal, beyond a step or two. But no, he just said, "He was not moving toward the goal. If this was an assessment, I would fail you."

I now scream in frustration in the untimely passing of a teachable moment.

Again, to vent my frustration (which isn't intense, but I was to learn from my betters, and while he may be a better referee, his teaching style sucks), I need to point out what how I think it should have been done. How other situations have been deconstructed. It's very simple, get the referee to describe the situation, first. Let's do this hypothetically:

Assessor: Describe for me the red card.

Referee: Player had a breakway down the right flank just outside of the penalty area, the keeper charged outside of his area to challenge him, missed the ball, tangled up and fouled the attacker. There were no other defenders anywhere near, the player was heading towards the goal, and I thought it was DOGSO and issued the red card.

Assessor: Where was the player heading when fouled?

Referee: Toward the goal.

Assessor: Are you sure? It looked like me like his angle wouldn't take him directly toward the goal.

And there you have the teachable moment - you can substitute that last comment with "He wasn't clearly moving toward the goal, even if turned," or something else. Anything other than simply, "He wasn't going toward the goal."

At that point, I kind of gave up. The guy has a wide assortment of knowledge, and is showing us that he has it, but isn't actually sharing it. He rattled off several other negatives, but instead of trying to get the specifics, trying to piece my memory of the events into what was right and what was incorrect, I simply got a "You're wrong." It's like getting a test back with a score, but no markings on what questions you got wrong.

I'm sure he meant well, he wasn't nasty or anything. But unfortunately he didn't really teach me anything, either. Read More »

You know it's too cold when...

May 16, 2008
By TheRef
... you finish your game to find frost on your jacket and your water bottle frozen shut.

I know we've had unusually warm summers for the last couple of years, but this late into April you'd think the temperature wouldn't just sit at above freezing, but here we are (or there I was, depending on when you read this), doing my first two games for the State Cup, after a couple of cancellations.

My first game was a line, a U15 boys which was reasonably competitive, but neither team seemed skilled enough to advance far into the tournament. I have to admit, that my heart just doesn't seem in it yet - oh, I enjoy the games, but my emotional state just seems a bit flat. As you know, I've been working with a personal trainer for almost a year-and-a-half now; I've also been going to the gym regularly, running regularly as well as other cardio routines - and it hasn't really helped. Despite all that, despite eating better and eating less - I'm fatter. It's more than just a little disheartening. But even before then, when I realized that it's going to be at least two years before I could even make an attempt for State, and the chances of being able to that were slim: Trying to balance work, the continued workouts that I'd need (versus the 3-5 days a week I got in now), and the real possibility of a kid into the mix - well, apparently my body just isn't naturally small, and it just ain't going to happen. I've also decided to take up a different sport - one I thought might be something to do during the winter - but I got into it now, am very excited about it, and will need to spend much of the summer getting up-to-speed. Maybe because it's new or maybe because I can actually play a sport now (instead of ref - I had to give up playing soccer because of safety concerns - that being players with grudges) - I'm more jazzed about this than I am about soccer. Of course, I've only had one practice so everything is new and shiny, even if I suck - so maybe that'll change over time, too.

But, since this is a blog about being a soccer referee, I'll turn back to that particular sport. If there was some downtime on the line when I wondered about what I was doing there, you don't have time to think about it when you're in the middle. This game was a U16 boy's play-in - the winner of the match joined the State Cup at the group stage. Much better quality of play than in the first game. It took me about 20 minutes before I started getting comfortable in the match - much longer than I'd like, but even though I had a few games over the winter (who knew that one in March would be warmer than now), it just wasn't enough to get me in shape mentally. Overall, though - I think I did well. I had some issues late in the game with the start of cramping (so did everyone else - did I mention that my water bottle froze shut?) - but was able to stretch through it on the next couple of a stoppages.

I can't say my game wasn't without controversy. My first booking, in the first half, was deemed weak by the AR on that side (to me it was for more of a professional foul than the strength of the action - the one team was beating them with speed all night long, especially on the flanks, and this late challenge killed a change for him to dribble up 15-20 yards along the goal-line). Another card, which my assistants knew was for Persistent Infringement was not greeted well by the recipient: he thwacked a ball carrier in the shin solidly - no ball at all - but the ball squirted out to another on the same team who took advantage of it, until he, too, was thwacked by the same guy. Since I told the guy to watch it on the first one, then he did it again not three seconds later - well, it had to stop, and it wouldn't be by talking, not that late in the game.

"But I was going for the ball!"

"I don't care what you were going for, it's what you got. Repeatedly".

I actually did the point, point, then card (to show the locations of the infractions before the booking). I hadn't done that before.

The only score in the game is what worried me the most. Everyone screamed hand-ball as the player took the ball for a break-away and score. What worries me is that I was watching him, but couldn't see squat on his arms. It's the same reason I don't like to wear black on night games - I can't see the other officials. In this case it was a ball that came in high, and on a black-clad player with black long-sleeves and black gloves against a black background. Well, I don't like to call handling fouls unless they're really deliberate anyway (something I pointed out in several my non-calls throughout the game), and I certainly can't call it if I or my AR can't see it (he couldn't either - apparently a player got in his way). So, I don't know if it was a legitimate grievance or not. Read More »

More cancellations

May 12, 2008
By TheRef
My first two official games of the season were canceled, along with my physical. It had been raining, on the verge of, and then a full verge of snow pretty that much killed everything. Oh, and very strong winds - and thankfully they took mercy not only on the kids, but the adults as well (although I've heard that those adults doing the Pro regional clinic in Chicago weren't so fortunate). The bummer for me was that I canceled my trainer the day before the physical, so I wouldn't be exhausted before having to run; I also wonder how many showed up, because I didn't see an email about the cancellation until only a couple of hours before the actual physical.

The games I had, which were scheduled for the day after, was actually OK to play on. In fact, they did - since it was State Cup, they moved Friday and Saturday's games to Sunday; and postponed the games, and the referee's scheduled for those games, that were set for Sunday. I'm unsure on why they did it that way (the games yes, referees, no so much) - you'd think it would be a bigger headache if someone was available on the first day, but not the second; versus using the people who already committed for the day. But that's why I don't assign. Read More »

Day two of the new season

May 5, 2008
By TheRef
Day two of the regional league games - and another U14 center (I was supposed to run lines on the canceled games last week, hence the two centers). No coach issues this game - no serious issues at all, really. But had a couple things that I thought twice about after the chance at correcting them was long gone.

The field, while mostly intact, was really wet, really soft, and it felt like running on marshmallows. I have no idea how it looked for everyone else, but I felt like I ran like crap - although I think that's more to do with the mud than myself (or at least I hope so). First half, a blatant two-handed shirt-pull at the half-way line just as the pull-ee was about to break out; it allowed two defenders to catch up and it was an obvious yellow card. No complaints, but my senior AR (who's been to regionals a couple of times himself now) thought I blew the whistle too soon - to me it looks like there was no way he was going to break out, and even if he did, any advantage he had from his speed was long gone; I'd been yelling at players a bit already about hands, and I wanted everyone to know what he was being booked for - still, a good point - and extra second or two wouldn't have hurt.

Like state cup games, I let a lot go in regional league, and as time wore down, everyone wanted the calls, although I never heard anything from the coaches.

I'm definitely liking the one game and out routine. I know I'll be doing a lot of double-headers when State Cup comes around (which is soon); they're good games, but I really don't care to have to ration my energy. Maybe I'm just getting old. Read More »